It was a rite of summer.

Get in the car, head down the Parkway to exit 105 and head East to Oceanport, where Monmouth Park was staging its own version of Del Mar--where the turf meets the surf--although the Atlantic Ocean is 2 miles away from the finish line at Monmouth.,

Oh, there were other reasons to head south in the summer.

The Jersey Shore of course, and then entertainment venues such as the Stone

 Pony in Asbury Park, which spawned a few people such as Southside Johnny and some guy named Springsteen.

There was The Headliner in Neptune, where you could catch a few sets of The Fabulous Grease Band.

And there were  food stops such as Max's for hot dogs in Long Branch and an assortment of choices along the boardwalk at Seaside Heights.

But for a Jersey guy--not Wiseguy--and his friends growing up in the sixties and 70's, Monmouth Park was not an optional choice.

It was also user friendly and clean, with a carnival like atmosphere that are basically only surpassed in this country by Del Mar in Southern California and Saratoga in New York.

Like all of us, however, Monmouth has aged and endured some stormy times and been forced to make some mid-course adjustments to merely survive.

The racing season, which begins its 76th year with a twilight six-race card on Friday night, has been curtailed to weekend entertainment--Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday this weekend and Friday, Saturday and Summer throughout the summer until the final weekend in September.

And the horses are not the main attraction, there  is  sports betting which has made it a year-round destination for those with an affinity gambling.

Where else could you  make a 2 dollar bet on a horse  at odds of 158-1--and win.

It happened at Monmouth last Sept. 28th when Andrez Conquist won by fourth length over a 5-2 favorite named The Morman Mauler.

The payout for a $2 winning ticket was $319.80. A $2 exacta (first and second) paid $1,446.40.

What makes Monmouth special this season is that it will be the testing ground for a new rule passed last fall which bans the use of whipping of horses of any kind other than for reasons of safety.

This, quite frankly, is a controversial rule with Monmouth the only track in the country implementing it. 

The rule  has already had potential consequences, with the top tier level of jockeys in the country announcing that Monmouth Park is no longer in their summer racing itinerary.

But then again, it is Jersey, which also considering a first in the nation change in wagering rules, with the odds on bets being frozen into real time (when they were made) structure, rather than race time odds.

That legislation could be implemented by the middle of the summer.

There is also the possibility that legendary trainer Bob Baffert, dealing with suspension issues in New York and Kentucky, could still be waiting for a final decision about his drug-related involvement with Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit when Monmouth's signature event of each racing season, The Haskell, is held on July 17th.

Baffert has been a  Haskell fixture, with his horses winning the race 9 times, including the appearance and triumph of Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh in 2015.

 Needless to say, Baffert would be welcome at Monmouth anytime.

But Monmouth is part of the background of a Jersey Guy's life-long flirtation with horse racing.

There have been adventures at Monmouth, as well as Saratoga and Del Mar--in the same weekend--as well as smaller venues such as Finger Lakes in New York,  Gulfstream in Florida, Churchill Downs and Keeneland in Kentucky and Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park in New England.

With the advent of on line gambling, no track is off limits, no field too small or too large to consider.

But when you factor in the location, the amenities as well as the history, Monmouth Park and the Jersey  Shore in the summer is an exacta combination that is difficult to beat.